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Brittney Griner live updates: Video shows Griner’s wife learning she’s on her way home


(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. has swapped WNBA star Brittney Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to a senior U.S. official.

The basketball star was taken into custody at a Moscow area airport in February in possession of vaping cartridges containing hashish oil, an illegal substance in Russia.

Griner pleaded guilty in July and was sentenced to nine years in prison on Aug. 7. She appealed the sentence, but was quickly rejected in October.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Dec 09, 1:53 PM EST
Brittney Griner has reunited with her wife

Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, have now seen each other in person, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed at Friday’s press briefing.

“She has been reunited with her wife, Cherelle. U.S officials who met her on the ground said she was in very good spirits, appears to be in good health," Jean-Pierre said. “She was immediately taken to Brooke Army Medical Center [in San Antonio] where she is being offered a range of support options.”

Jean-Pierre did not give a timeline on when Griner might return home to Arizona.

"Every individual is different and those decisions are up to them and their families,” she said. “Typically upon arrival, people are offered a wide range of additional support, including full medical checkup, a mental health checkup.”

Dec 09, 1:17 PM EST
Viktor Bout gives first interview since release

Convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was traded for Brittney Griner and is now home in Russia, told Russian state-owned media outlet RT, “thank God” the exchange happened.

Asked about his first feelings at home, Bout replied: “Feelings need to be dealt with. We need to find more words to describe it all."

Bout noted that he didn’t see any anti-Russia sentiments from prison staff.

Dec 09, 8:31 AM EST
Video shows Griner’s wife hearing she’s on her way home

The White House has shared video of the moment Thursday morning when President Joe Biden told Cherelle Griner her wife was on the way home.

"She's on the ground," Biden told Griner as they hugged.

"Stop it," she replied.

'Yep. She's on the ground," Biden said as she hugged him again.

The video also shows Griner exclaim, "It’s just such a good day!” as Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken look on, beaming.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Dec 09, 8:17 AM EST
Kirby says Griner ‘appears to be in good health’

Brittney Griner is “in very good spirits” and “appears to be in good health," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

"We've talked to our team on the ground who met her there [in San Antonio] as well as the team that traveled overseas with her on that airplane,” Kirby said. “She's now going to go to the treatment facility, she's going to get looked after by docs and nurses there, just to make sure everything is OK.”

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Dec 09, 6:21 AM EST
Brittney Griner arrives back in the United States

A plane believed to be carrying Brittney Griner landed in the U.S. early Friday, nearly 10 months after she was detained in Russia.

The Gulfstream jet landed at about 5:30 a.m. ET at San Antonio’s Kelly Air Force Base.

Dec 08, 10:14 PM EST
Griner family thanks Biden administration

Brittney Griner’s family in a statement Thursday night offered their “sincere gratitude” to President Joe Biden and his administration for their efforts in bringing the WNBA star home.

The family also expressed their gratitude to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Mickey Bergman, the executive director of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, for their help in facilitating the release.

The statement thanked the family of Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine still held captive in Russia, for their support during “a heartbreaking time.”

“We pray for Paul and for the swift and safe return of all wrongfully-detained Americans,” the statement said.

Griner is expected to arrive in the U.S. late Thursday or early Friday.

Dec 08, 5:21 PM EST
Viktor Bout's attorney says swap 'fair'

The attorney for Viktor Bout called the prisoner exchange "fair" in a statement Thursday.

"As we have urged for some time, given the fifteen long years that Viktor Bout has been in custody since the United States government targeted him in 2006, his exchange for Brittney Griner, who has only been in custody for a few months, is fair," the attorney, Steve Zissou, said. "Like Brittney Griner, Viktor Bout will soon be reunited with his family."

Zissou thanked the Russian foreign ministry and Russian President Vladimir Putin for Bout's release from prison.

"Hopefully, this is just the first of many reasonable agreements between the U.S. and Russia that will lead to better relations and a safer world," Zissou said.

The exchange has drawn concern from some U.S. lawmakers, as well as criticism from the Drug Enforcement Administration agent who oversaw the agency's investigation of Bout.

Dec 08, 4:22 PM EST
Video shows Brittney Griner boarding plane in Russia

Video released by Russian state media on Thursday shows Brittney Griner boarding a plane in Russia and saying she’s happy to be heading home.

The video was taken before Griner was released into U.S. custody.

Dec 08, 4:00 PM EST
Griner will continue to advocate for other Americans held abroad

Lindsay Colas, Brittney Griner's agent, said Griner "has carried herself with courage, grace and grit” and is expressing thanks to everyone who helped bring her home, including U.S. officials, the WNBA and the NBA.

Colas especially thanked President Joe Biden, who she said “kept his word."

“Also, to so many people around the world who raised their voices and stood with us - especially Black women, the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights leaders - thank you,” Colas said in a statement.

Colas said Griner will continue to advocate for other Americans held abroad and called people out by name, including Paul Whelan, who remains imprisoned in Russia, and Americans who are in Iran, Venezuela, China, Syria, Mali and Rwanda.

“Our commitment to President Biden and to the families of Americans who are being held hostage and wrongfully detained – especially Elizabeth and David Whelan, on behalf of their brother Paul Whelan, who remains in Russia and whose continued detention weighs heavily on our hearts – is to continue our work in the movement to bring them home,” Colas said.

Dec 08, 3:44 PM EST
Swap initiated on Nov. 29 with US Marshals taking custody of Bout

The prisoner swap that resulted in Brittney Griner’s release has been in the works since at least Nov. 29, when the U.S. government requested the removal of Viktor Bout from USP Marion in Marion, Illinois, according to a court document unsealed Thursday.

The document, signed by George Turner, assistant United States attorney from the Southern District of New York, requested the Bureau of Prisons allow U.S. Marshals to take custody of Bout sometime between Dec. 2 and Dec. 16.

The move was “based on the significant foreign policy interests of the United States,” the document said, but did not mention Griner or a prisoner exchange.

The government expended significant resources and time to bring Bout to justice, but a source familiar with the prosecution of Bout said they recognized the "competing interests" that resulted in his release from U.S. custody.

Whether Bout represents a future threat, this source said that while Bout is not old he has been "out of the game," which would impede his ability to go back to his former operations. However, the source called Bout a "shrewd operator" with "a lot of friends" in Russian military and intelligence circles.

-ABC News' Aaron Katersky

Dec 08, 3:28 PM EST
Whelan's sister: US needs to find way around Russian 'fairy tale' of him being a spy

Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of ex-Marine Paul Whelan, the U.S. citizen being held in Russia as an alleged spy, told ABC News in an interview Thursday she is happy for Brittney Griner, but also frustrated Paul remains in custody.

"The Russians have been clear with all of these cases that they treat them all separately," Elizabeth Whelan told ABC News. "We try to bundle them together and get everybody out at once. We don't want to leave anyone behind. But that is not necessarily the way our opponents are dealing with this situation."

"We've always known that the Russians were treating Paul separately, and therefore, we always knew that there was a chance that this would happen, that Brittney would be released first," she continued.

U.S. officials said they wanted to exchange Viktor Bout for both Griner and Paul Whelan, but that Russian officials would not engage on both and said either Griner could be swapped for Bout or no one could be swapped.

"I think we need to start dealing with Russia as the entity that it actually is now and not the way we might want it to be," Elizabeth Whelan said. "They talk about Paul being a spy, but they're the ones who set Paul up and created this spy story that is sort of based in a fairy tale [that] has to be undermined. We have to find a way around that."

Dec 08, 2:26 PM EST
Biden delivered news of release to Cherelle Griner in person

President Joe Biden delivered the good news about Brittney Griner's release in person directly to her wife, Cherelle, at the White House Thursday morning, according to press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

"Cherelle had been invited to the White House for a meeting with the national security adviser Jake Sullivan. When she arrived, she was welcomed into the Oval Office by President Biden, who personally delivered the news that Brittney would be returning home today," Jean-Pierre said.

ABC News' Mary Bruce pressed the White House on any plans Biden has to meet with Griner upon her return to the United States, but Jean-Pierre didn’t have any guidance.

"I don't have anything to preview at this time. Our efforts right now, our focus, is to get her home safely and to get her back to her family, to her team, to her loved ones, and give her all the necessary tools she will need to reengage, to come back to the U.S. in the way that she chooses, right?" Jean-Pierre said.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Dec 08, 2:13 PM EST
Senators celebrate release, but fear it incentivizes Americans being 'scooped up'

Senators from both side of the aisle celebrated Brittney Griner's freedom from Russian detention Thursday, but several members also questioned the decision to swap Griner for known international arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told ABC News that while he sees Griner's return as "good news" and a "significant accomplishment by the Biden administration," he's worried about the precedent that could be set for exchanges of high-profile Russian criminals like Bout.

"It was clear over many months that Putin was only going to release Brittney Griner in exchange for this person," Coons said. "And that's the risk, is that the more we engage in such exchanges, the more Americans are at risk of being scooped up and held as leverage to try and secure the release of folks who we would rather not have to release."

Republicans shared Coons' concern.

"I worry about -- this sets in motion, you know, just 'grab an American,'" Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.

"Well, I hate it," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said when asked about the administration's move to free Bout. "But I think you're left with the decision: yes or no. And like I said, I think I would never be happy to have an American in a Russian penal colony, or under any circumstances, so unfortunately, that's the sort of way Putin does business."

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., agreed with that assessment.

"We traded a basketball player for a known terrorist criminal," Marshall said, suggesting that the U.S. should have driven a tougher bargain.

-ABC News' Allie Pecorin

Dec 08, 1:07 PM EST
Paul Whelan calls CNN from prison

Paul Whelan called CNN from prison on Thursday, saying he's "happy that Brittney is going home today and that Trevor [Reed] went home when he did -- but I don't understand why I’m still sitting here."

Whelan said he's "greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release," adding, "I was arrested for a crime that never occurred."

Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years, said his message to Biden is: "This is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly, and I would hope that he and his administration would do everything they could to get me home. regardless of the price they may have to pay at this point."

Biden said Thursday that the prisoner swap was "not a choice" between Brittney Griner and Whelan.

"Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release we are not giving up. We will never give up," he said.

"We'll continue to engage the Russians on Paul, and we'll continue to look at everything possible to bring him home," Secretary of State Antony Blinken added.

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Dec 08, 12:38 PM EST
Phoenix Mercury, Griner's WNBA team, releases statement: 'She's on her way'

The Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner's WNBA team, celebrated their star player's return Thursday.

"Miraculously, mercifully, the count of days detained has ended at 294, and our friend, our sister is headed back home where she belongs," the team wrote on Twitter. "The emotions for our organization, just like for our fans and so many across the world, are those of joyous celebration, deep gratitude, grief for the time lost, and sincere hope for all families still awaiting the return of a loved one."

Griner has played her entire nine-year career with Phoenix, making eight All-Star teams and winning the WNBA title in 2014.

The team had posted each week, saying how many days Griner had been in detention in Russia and continuing to advocate for her release. Teammates like Kia Nurse, Brianna Turner, Sophie Cunningham and Shey Peddy tweeted their relief at Griner's release.

"BG's strength in this process, her unwavering belief that resolution would come, and the hope she displayed every day is what kept all of us believing this day would come," the Mercury said in its joint statement with the Phoenix Suns.

"We no longer have to Bring BG Home -- she's on her way," they concluded.

Dec 08, 12:29 PM EST
Griner headed to Brooke Army Medical Center

Brittney Griner is en route to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, a spokesperson at the base confirmed to ABC News. She's expected to arrive late Thursday night or early Friday, according to the base.

-ABC News' Gina Sunseri and Ben Gittleson

Dec 08, 11:28 AM EST
WNBA, NBA commissioners praise release

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert applauded the release of Griner, an eight-time league All Star, and said she showed "extraordinary courage and dignity in the face of enormous adversity."

"There has not been a day over the past ten months where we all haven’t had Brittney Griner on our minds and in our hearts and that has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief knowing that she will soon be reunited with her family, the WNBA player community, and her friends," Engelbert wrote in a statement.

The WNBA celebrated Griner all season, putting her No. 42 on every court and even having every player in this year's All Star Game wear her number. Many players spoke out throughout the season for her release.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who had also consistently pushed for Griner's release, said in a statement, "Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we're thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends. We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney's unjust circumstances."

Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP and a teammate of Griner on both the U.S. national team and Russian squad UMMC Ekaterinburg, had posted a plea for Griner's release every day on Twitter, counting the days and tagging President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the White House in the posts. On Thursday, she wrote, "BG is FREE!!! 294 days and she is coming home!!!"

Dec 08, 9:22 AM EST
Griner negotiations were 'painstaking,' Russians treating Whelan differently: Biden

The road to Griner’s release involved "painstaking and intense negotiations," President Biden said as he thanked many across his administration who "worked tirelessly to secure her release."

"She's relieved to finally be heading home and the fact remains that she's lost months of her life, experienced a needless trauma," he said. "She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained."

Biden said Griner landed in the United Arab Emirates and that the country helped facilitate the transfer.

Paul Whelan was not part of this exchange, the president said, adding, "This was not a choice of which American to bring home."

"Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up. We will never give up," Biden said. "We remain in close touch with Paul's family -- the Whelan family -- and my thoughts and prayers are with them today."

"They have to have such mixed emotions today," he continued. "And we’ll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul Whelan. I guarantee that. I say that to the family. And I guarantee you. I urge Russia to do the same to ensure that Paul's health and humane treat are maintained until we can bring him home. I don't want American to be detained one extra day if we can bring that person home."

Dec 08, 9:20 AM EST
Blinken says Russia not willing to release Paul Whelan

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he’s grateful to everyone “who worked tirelessly” to bring Brittney Griner home, but lamented that Paul Whelan and his family “continue to suffer needlessly.”

“Despite our ceaseless efforts, the Russian Government has not yet been willing to bring a long overdue end to his wrongful detention. I wholeheartedly wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane with Brittney,” he said in a statement. “We will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones.”

Dec 08, 9:02 AM EST
Biden says Griner will be home within 24 hours

President Joe Biden confirmed that WNBA star Brittney Griner is on her way back to the U.S. and will be back within 24 hours.

The president said she's in "good spirits."

"She's safe. She's on a plane. She's on her way home,” Biden said.

“After months of being unjustly detained in Russia held under intolerable circumstances, Brittany will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and -- and she should have been there all along," he said.

A senior U.S. official told ABC News that Biden signed off on the prisoner swap last week.

Dec 08, 8:59 AM EST
Whelan family disappointed he wasn't included in swap

The brother of Paul Whelan, an ex-U.S. Marine currently being held in Russian prison, said they were told beforehand he would not be included in the swap and were "able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us."

"At some level, our family has steeled ourselves for this likelihood," Whelan's brother, David, wrote in a statement. "And I think, as the use of wrongful detentions and hostage diplomacy continues around the globe, it's clear the US government needs to be more assertive. If bad actors like Russia are going to grab innocent Americans, the US needs a swifter, more direct response, and to be prepared in advance."

"In Russia's case, this may mean taking more law-breaking, Kremlin-connected Russians into custody," he added. "It's not like there aren't plenty around the world."

David Whelan also made sure to note he and his family were happy Griner has been released and said he knew the cases "were not intertwined."

"There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home," he wrote. "The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to happen."

The Whelan family issued a similar statement in April when U.S. citizen Trevor Reed was freed from Russia in a prisoner swap. David Whelan alluded to that in his statement Thursday, saying, "The sentiments I shared in April about Trevor are unchanged: this is the event we wish for so much for our own family. She will be reunited with her family. Brittney is free. And Paul is still a hostage."

Dec 08, 8:53 AM EST
Cherelle Griner calls past months 'one of the darkest moments of my life'

Brittney Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, called the past months “one of the darkest moments of my life,” but flashed a large smile on her face knowing “BG” will be home soon.

“Today I'm just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration," she said as she stood alongside President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

"It’s a happy day for me and my family," she said.

Dec 08, 8:45 AM EST
Lavrov confirms swap, Putin pardoned Griner

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that Griner was released and the prisoner exchange was carried out at Abu Dhabi Airport.

"For a long time, the Russian Federation has been negotiating with the United States on the release of V.A. Bout," Lavrov said in a statement. "Washington categorically refused to engage in dialogue on the inclusion of the Russian in the exchange scheme. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot."

"As a result of the efforts made, it was possible to agree with the American side on the organization of the exchange of V.A.Bout for B. Griner," he continued.

The U.S. has said for months it had offered Bout as part of a prisoner swap for Griner and Russian detained ex-Marine Paul Whelan.

Ombudsman of the Russian Federation Tatyana Moskalkova said Putin pardoned Griner before her release in the swap and she and Bout "should not serve the rest of their sentences in their respective countries."

Dec 08, 8:34 AM EST
Who is Viktor Bout?

Griner has been swapped for the convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to a senior U.S. official.

Bout was arguably the world’s best-known illegal arms trafficker and his capture in 2008 at a hotel in Thailand came at the end of a nearly decade-long hunt by the U.S.

Bout, 55, emerged as a kingpin in the global illegal arms trade during the 1990s, accused of fueling some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, particularly in Africa. Sourcing weapons from the huge stockpiles of the collapsed Soviet Union, the Russian used a fleet of Soviet-built transport aircraft to supply vast quantities of arm, often circumventing international embargoes.

Dec 08, 8:27 AM EST
Biden speaks to Griner aboard plane

President Joe Biden shared a photo of himself talking on the phone to Brittney Griner from the White House, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, saying she was on a plane, safe and headed home.

He is also shown hugging Cherelle Griner, Brittney's wife.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Ukrainian special forces were in Russia during strike

Andrei Pungovschi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- More than six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion into neighboring Ukraine, the two countries are engaged in a struggle for control of areas throughout eastern and southern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose forces began an offensive in August, has vowed to take back all Russian-occupied territory. But Putin in September announced a mobilization of reservists, which is expected to call up as many as 300,000 additional troops.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Dec 09, 12:10 PM EST
US, Russian diplomats meet in Istanbul

A senior U.S. official met with a Russian delegation in Istanbul on Friday to discuss "a narrow set of bilateral issues," according to a spokesperson from the State Department.

Citing a hesitancy to discuss "private diplomatic discussions," the spokesperson declined to provide additional detail, but other sources say the agenda was focused on embassy staffing levels, visas and related matters.

A spokesperson added that the war in Ukraine was not discussed, nor was Paul Whelan’s case.

The meeting was initially reported by Russian News Agency TASS.

Dec 09, 12:05 PM EST
Treasury sanctions 4 Russians for carrying out human rights abuses

The U.S. Department of Treasury issued sanctions against four Russians accused of forcibly seizing personal data and conducting interrogations and searches against Ukrainian citizens to determine if they have any connections to the Ukrainian government or military.

There are also allegations that deportations, disappearances and torture have also been carried out.

Two of those sanctioned "oversaw the filtration of city government officials and other civilians from Mariupol, Ukraine, including through the filtration center in Manhush, Ukraine. Witnesses have reported insufficient food supplies, overcrowded cells, and beatings at the Manhush filtration center. One witness overheard Russia’s soldiers discussing shooting people who underwent filtration at Manhush," according to a press release from the Treasury.

The Treasury is also sanctioning members of Russia's Central Election Commission for overseeing the sham referenda held in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine in September, during which Ukrainians were forced to vote for annexation.

Dec 07, 6:01 PM EST
10 civilians killed in Russian air strike, Zelenskyy says

A Russian airstrike that struck Kurakhov, a city in Donetsk Oblast in southeastern Ukraine, has killed 10 people, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Wednesday.

Civilian areas such as a market, gas station, bus station and a residential building were among the targets that were struck, Zelenskyy said.

Dec 07, 1:19 PM EST
Putin says Russia will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in war with Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Wednesday the threat of nuclear war is increasing but Russia will not be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Putin, speaking at Russia's Human Rights Council, said nuclear weapons should act as a deterrent in conflicts, not provoke them.

"We consider weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons, it is all built around the so-called retaliatory strike. When we are struck, we strike back," Putin said.

“I have already said: we don’t have our own nuclear weapons, including tactical ones, on the territory of other countries, but the Americans do. Both in Turkey and in a number of other European states ... we haven't done anything yet," Putin said.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Dec 07, 8:56 AM EST
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy named Time's 2022 'Person of the Year'

Time named Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Spirit of Ukraine as the 2022 "Person of the Year."

More than a dozen Ukrainians who embodied the spirit of Ukraine were also named: Dr. Iryna Kondratova, who helped mothers give birth during shelling in the hospital basement; Oleg Kutkov, an engineer who laid the groundwork for the essential connectivity; Olga Rudenko, editor-in-chief of the Kyiv Independent; and Levgen Klopotenko, a Kyiv chef who converted his restaurant into a relief canteen.

“This year’s choice was the most clear-cut in memory. Whether the battle for Ukraine fills one with hope or with fear, the world marched to Volodymyr Zelensky’s beat in 2022," Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said in a statement.

Dec 06, 4:22 PM EST
Ukrainian special forces were deep in Russia to guide drone, senior Ukrainian official says

Ukrainian special forces were deep inside Russian territory and helped guide drones to at least one of the bases hit in Monday’s attacks, a senior official from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s inner-circle confirmed to ABC News.

-ABC News' Marcus Moore

Dec 06, 2:28 PM EST
White House does not have assessment on drone attacks inside Russia

The U.S. does not have an assessment on recent drone attacks deep inside Russia, which a person close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told ABC News Ukraine is responsible for, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.

"I don't want to speculate about whether Ukraine is responsible for these attacks," Jean-Pierre said.

Jean-Pierre also told reporters Russia is to blame for this conflict.

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Dec 06, 11:30 AM EST
Russia now out of Iranian-made drones, Western officials say

According to Western officials, Russia has run out of Iranian-made drones. Russia had been using the lethal drones, along with missiles, in a wave of aerial bombardments on Ukrainian infrastructure over a period of several weeks.

But, the drones have been absent in recent Russian attacks. A western official said the Russians "anticipate a resupply."

In light of Ukraine’s apparent drone attacks on military airbases deep inside Russia, Western officials said Russia will now be undergoing "a significant amount of soul-searching" over their ability to defend significant military assets deep inside Russia’s borders.

The official, who characterized the attacks as "an egregious failure of security" said the Russian military’s potential had been consistently overestimated by the west.

“I no longer think the Russians are ten-feet tall," the official said.

-ABC News' Tom Soufi Burridge

Dec 06, 10:17 AM EST
Ukrainian drone crashes into military airfield in Russia

A Ukrainian drone crashed into a military airfield in Russia, setting an oil tanker on fire, according to the governor of Russia’s Kursk region.

There were no casualties at the Kursk base. This comes a day after drone attacks on two Russian airbases where jets used to bomb Ukraine are housed. No one immediately claimed responsibility.

-ABC News' Joe Simonetti

Dec 05, 10:36 AM EST
Missiles rain on Ukraine after purported drone strikes in Russia

A new barrage of missiles strikes was launched against Ukraine on Monday, hitting targets across the country, including the capital city of Kyiv, officials said.

Casualties and damage from the attacks were being assessed, Ukrainian officials said.

The majority of the missiles were shot down by air defense forces, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said the Russians launched missiles from the Volgodonsk, Caspian and Black seas.

The strikes damaged two infrastructure objects in the Odesa region, leaving the area without electricity and running water, officials said. One person was hospitalized, according to Ukrainian officials.

Odesa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov said a missile hit a substation that supplies the city of Belvaevska's pumping station with electricity.

According to the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, missile strikes in the Zaporizhzhia region killed two people and injured three others, including a toddler, in the village of Novosofiyivka.

Explosion were also heard in Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskyi, Kherson and Cherkasy, officials said.

The missile strikes followed reports from Russian media outlets that drones were used to bomb two military air bases in Russia, hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border.

Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for the drone attacks, but Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Ukraine’s president, posted a cryptic tweet, saying "if you launch something very often into the airspace of other countries, sooner or later the unknown flying objects will return to the place of departure."

Dec 02, 2:18 PM EST
No peace talks till Russian soldiers leave, Ukraine says

Ukraine said it would not consider peace talks before the last Russian soldier leaves Ukrainian territory. This comes after President Joe Biden indicating he would be willing to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin if he has legitimate interest in peace negotiations.

Ukraine also said that there must not be any peace negotiations without Ukraine, reiterating that Biden has been clear that there won't be any talks happening without the participation of U.S. allies and Ukraine.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Dec 02, 2:17 PM EST
IAEA expresses optimism over creation of protection zone around Zaporizhzhia

The International Atomic Energy Agency expressed optimism over possibly creating a safe zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant before the end of the year.

"I know that President Putin is following the process, and I do not rule out another meeting with him soon, as well as with Ukrainian President Zelensky," IAEA Director General Rafael Rossi said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"There is a concrete proposal on securing Zaporizhzhia and important progress has been made. ...The two sides now agree on some basic principles. The first is that of protection: it means accepting that you don't shoot 'on' the plant and 'from' the plant. The second is the recognition that the IAEA is the only possible way forward: that was the heart of my meeting with President Putin in St. Petersburg on October 11," Rossi added.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Dec 02, 12:27 PM EST
Bloody packages with animal eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

Packages believed to be blood-soaked and containing the eyes of animals, were sent to Ukrainian embassies worldwide, including in Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Italy, the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs said Friday.

The entrance to the ambassador's residence in the Vatican was also vandalized, according to the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs.

The Ukrainian embassy in the U.S. received a letter with a photocopy of a critical article about Ukraine. Like most other envelopes, the letter arrived along with others from the territory of an unnamed European country.

"We have reason to believe that a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukrainian embassies and consulates is taking place. Not being able to stop Ukraine on the diplomatic front, they are trying to intimidate us. However, I can immediately say that these attempts are useless. We will continue to work effectively for the victory of Ukraine," the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement.

The Ukrainian embassy in Spain received a letter-bomb on Wednesday which was opened and ignited, resulting in one slight injury.

A similar envelope was sent to the U.S. embassy in Madrid, but it was detected before going off, according to Spanish officials.

All Ukrainian embassies and consulates have been placed under heightened security. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on foreign governments to guarantee maximum protection of Ukraine's diplomatic institutions.

Dec 01, 3:28 PM EST
Biden 'prepared to speak with Putin' if he wants to end war

Speaking at a joint press conference with France's Emmanuel Macron, President Joe Biden said he would be open to speaking with Vladimir Putin if the Russian leader has legitimate interest in peace negotiations. Biden, however, said he has "no immediate plans to contact Mr. Putin."

Biden also noted that Putin has "miscalculated every single thing" when it comes to this war.

"So the question is what is his -- how does he get himself out of the circumstance he's in? I'm prepared if he's willing to talk to find out what he's willing to do, but I'll only do it in consultation with my NATO. I'm not going to do it on my own," Biden said.

Meanwhile, President Macron, who has continued speaking with Putin, said it's up to Ukraine to come to the negotiating table.

"So it's only legitimate that President Zelenskyy sets some conditions to talk. We need to work on what could lead to a peace agreement. But it's for him to tell us when the time comes and what the choices of the Ukrainians are," Macron said.

-ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky

Dec 01, 1:46 PM EST
Shelling in Kherson damages power lines as energy company works to finish repairs

Electricity was back for 60% of customers in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, but shelling overnight damaged power lines, according to the head of Ukraine's regional energy company.

Workers are hoping to finish the repairs by the end of Thursday.

In Kyiv, 652,000 residents were subject to power outages throughout Thursday, according to the director of YASNO energy company, Serhiy Kovalenko. Kyiv's main power grid is operating at less than 70% capacity and 20% of residents are still without power or heat.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Dec 01, 12:20 PM EST
Russia accuses US, NATO of direct involvement in war

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West of being directly involved in the war in Ukraine by supplying the country with weapons and training its soldiers.

"You are training their military on your territory, on the territories of Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries," Lavrov said at a press conference Thursday.

Lavrov also claimed that Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities and other key infrastructure were intended to weaken Ukraine’s military potential and derail the shipments of weapons from the West.

Lavrov also said Moscow is open to peace talks to end the conflict.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Nov 29, 11:47 AM EST
US to send $53M in energy aid to help Ukraine through winter

The U.S. will provide Ukraine with more than $53 million to acquire critical electric grid equipment to help its citizens get through the winter, the State Department announced Tuesday.

The announcement comes amid Russia's continued attacks against Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

"This new assistance is in addition to $55 million in emergency energy sector support for generators and other equipment to help restore emergency power and heat to local municipalities impacted by Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s power system," the State Department said in a release.

-ABC News' Matt Seyler

Nov 28, 4:36 PM EST
UN lays out 'dire' situation in southern Ukraine

Denise Brown, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, traveled to the Ukrainian cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv over the weekend to get an update on the humanitarian issues affecting the southern part of the country, according to the U.N.

Although repairs to the area's water system are finally able to commence, there is still a lot of work to be done to help the people in those cities, the U.N said.

"We continue to be concerned about the plight of civilians in Ukraine especially as winter sets in," a U.N. spokesperson said in a statement.

Some heating points have already been established in Mykolaiv to help people who cannot heat their homes, according to the U.N.

"Aid workers are providing supplies and generators to make these places functional," the U.N. said in a statement.

The agency added that donations and funding for humanitarian efforts are critical as the cold weather sets in.

Nov 25, 1:13 PM EST
Power restored in all regions, Ukraine grid operator says

All of Ukraine's regions are now connected to the European Union's energy system and all three nuclear power plants located in the Kyiv-controlled area are working, CEO of Ukrenergo grid operator Volodymyr Kudrytskyi announced.

"In one to two days, they will reach their normal planned capacity, and we expect to introduce planned rolling blackouts instead of emergency outages," Kudrytskyi said.

Power is slowly returning to all Ukrainian cities, but blackouts and emergency shutdowns continue. Power issues are the worst in Kyiv, Kirivigrad, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Poltava and Lviv, according to Kudrytskyi.

Kyiv's critical infrastructure receives electricity, the water supply is fully restored and heating is being restored, but 50% of residential houses remain without power. Only one-third of houses currently have heating, according to the mayor.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Climate change, human activity 'decimating' marine life, according to IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Lea McQuillan / 500px/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Human activity is wreaking havoc on the state of the oceans around the world -- especially on marine life, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's updated Red List of Threatened Species.

Environmentally harmful activities such as illegal and unsustainable fishing, pollution, climate change and disease are devastating both plant and animal marine species, from mammals to corals, according to the IUCN.

More than 1,550 marine animals and plants are currently at risk of extinction, with climate chance impacting at least 41% of threatened marine species.

One of the new marine species at risk of extinction are populations of dugongs, large herbivorous marine mammals found in East Africa and New Caledonia, according to the list. There are now fewer than 250 mature individuals in East Africa and under 900 in New Caledonia, where they are considered critically endangered and endangered, respectively.

The primary threats the dugongs face are unintentional capture in fishing gear in East Africa and poaching in New Caledonia, and boat injuries in both locations. In addition, oil and gas exploration and production, bottom trawling, chemical pollution and unauthorized coastal development are damaging and destroying the seagrasses that dugongs depend on for food, especially in East Africa, the conservationists said.

The degradation and loss of seagrasses in New Caledonia is the result of agricultural runoff, pollution from nickel mining and coastal development, and damage from boat anchors. Climate change also presents a threat throughout the dugongs’ wide range.

Protecting dugong populations in the future will require strengthening community-led fisheries governance and expanding work opportunities beyond fishing in East Africa, said Evan Trotzuk, who led the East Africa Red List assessment. It will also be necessary to create additional conserved areas in areas where dugongs live, particularly around Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, Trotzuk said.

About 44% of all abalone shellfish species -- 20 of 54 -- are at risk of extinction, the Red List states. Abalone species are sold as some of the world’s most expensive seafood and are especially vulnerable to poaching and unsustainable fishing practices.

In South Africa, criminal networks, many connected with the international drug trade, have devastated populations of the perlemoen abalone by poaching, according to the IUCN.

Marine heat waves, many spurred on by climate change, are also killing off the species, animal conservationists said. About 99% of Roe’s abalones, located in the most northerly regions of western Australia, have died as a result of mass mortalities from the severe heat waves.

The heat waves are also exacerbating disease, affecting the critically endangered black abalone in California and Mexico and the vulnerable green ormer -- another abolone species -- found from the English Channel to Northwest Africa and the Mediterranean.

In addition, the marine heat waves also kill off the algae the abalones rely on for food, further increasing the pressures the species face. Harmful algae blooming from agricultural and industrial runoff have eliminated the endangered Omani abalone, a commercial species found in the Arabian Peninsula, across half of its range.

Even toxic boat paint is further depleting abalone populations, according to the IUCN.

The most immediate action people can take is to eat only farmed or sustainably sourced abalones, Howard Peters, member of the IUCN SSC Mollusk Specialist Group and research associate at the University of York, said in a statement.

"Enforcing fishery quotas and anti-poaching measures is also critical. However, we need to halt the changes to ocean chemistry and temperature to preserve marine life including abalone species over the long term," Peters said.

The status of the pillar coral, found throughout the Caribbean and as far north as Florida, has also deteriorated to critically endangered due to accumulated pressures, according to the list.

The pillar coral's population has shrunk a whopping 80% since 1990 and its biggest threat is stony coral tissue loss disease, a highly contagious disease that emerged about four years ago and infects between 90 and 100 meters of reef per day, according to the IUCN.

The corals have become more susceptible to disease as a result of bleaching caused by increased sea surface temperatures and excess antibiotics, fertilizers and sewage running into the sea, the conservationists said. In addition, overfishing around coral reefs has depleted the number of grazing fish, allowing algae to dominate and putting further pressure on corals.

Of the 150,388 species on the IUCN Red List, 42,108 are now threatened with extinction, according to the updated Red List.

Now is an important time to address these concerning statistics as COP15, the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity, kicks off in Montreal on Friday, IUCN director general Bruno Oberle said in a statement.

"Today’s IUCN Red List update reveals a perfect storm of unsustainable human activity decimating marine life around the globe," Oberle said. "We urgently need to address the linked climate and biodiversity crises, with profound changes to our economic systems, or we risk losing the crucial benefits the oceans provide us with."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Prince Harry and Meghan docuseries: Royal family counters Netflix, says they were not contacted for comment

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Netflix and Britain's royal family have differing views when it comes to whether or not the family was asked to participate in the new docuseries featuring Prince Harry and Meghan, the duke and duchess of Sussex.

In the opening seconds of the docuseries Harry & Meghan, which debuted Thursday, Netflix states that members of Britain's royal family "declined to comment on the content within this series."

Royal sources however told ABC News "that neither Buckingham Palace nor Kensington Palace nor any members of the royal family were approached for comment on the content of the series."

According to royal sources, Kensington Palace, the household of Harry's brother Prince William and his wife Kate, the princess of Wales, received an email purporting to be from a third-party production company, via a different, unknown organization's email address.

The palace contacted Harry and Meghan's production company, Archewell Productions, and Netflix to attempt to verify the authenticity of the email, but received no response, sources claimed.

According to the sources, without being able to verify the email's authenticity, the palace was "unable" to provide any response.

A source at Netflix told ABC News Thursday that communications offices for Harry's father King Charles III and William were contacted in advance and given the right to reply to claims within the series.

Both Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace, the household of Charles and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, declined Thursday to comment on the docuseries.

According to Netflix, interviews for the series were completed by August, one month before the death of Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The docuseries -- described in the first episode as a "first-hand account of Harry and Meghan's story, told with never before seen personal archive" -- is part of a deal Harry and Meghan inked with Netflix in 2020, shortly after they stepped down from their roles as senior working royals. The six-part series was made in association with Archewell Productions, which the California-based couple also launched in their post-royal life.

The first three episodes released cover everything from how Harry and Meghan first met to coverage of their relationship and the build-up to their star-studded wedding in Windsor, England, in May 2018.

Harry and Meghan speak openly in sit-down interviews for the series, as do Meghan's mom Doria Ragland and several of her longtime friends and former colleagues from her acting career.

Also featured in the series is James Holt, a former press secretary for the couple who is now the executive director of their Archewell Foundation.

The only childhood friend of Harry's who is featured in the docuseries is a man identified as Nicky, who attended Eton College with the prince.

Also featured in the series are Harry's friend and polo star Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, with whom Harry co-founded the charity Sentebale.

ABC News' royal contributor Victoria Murphy said she believes there is nothing in the docuseries so far that the royal family will "feel that they need to respond to."

"What it really was," Murphy said, "was the couple's chance to tell their love story on their own terms. Their critics say, 'Oh, they wanted privacy,' but actually what they wanted was control. They wanted to be able to tell their story and have people see them how they wanted to be seen. I think that they will feel with this documentary that they have done that."

Robert Jobson, also an ABC News royal contributor, echoed Murphy, saying he does not believe the royal family will speak out about the docuseries.

"There's no point really in getting involved with a tit-for-tat. The reality is [Harry and Meghan] have gone their own way. They've got their viewpoint," he said, adding, "I think the King and Prince William will stay silent and just get on with doing what they do in actions rather than words."

The final three episodes of Harry and Meghan's docuseries will be released on Netflix on Dec. 15.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Mexican authorities search for 'Ted Bundy'-like killer after 3 women found dead in Tijuana

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(TIJUANA, Mexico) -- Authorities in Mexico are searching for a suspect responsible for the recent deaths of three women who worked in bars and strip clubs in Tijuana, a Mexican state attorney general said Thursday.

Baja California Attorney General Ricardo Iván Carpio Sánchez said the women were found dead in hotel rooms last month.

Investigators have a good idea who the suspect is, the attorney general said, describing him as an American who lives north of the border.

Authorities have yet to name the suspect.

The FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies have reportedly been notified and are assisting with the search, Carpio Sánchez said.

The FBI did not return ABC News' request for comment on the agency's involvement in this investigation.

Mexican authorities compared the killings to the murders committed by notorious U.S. serial killer Ted Bundy.

"This subject has criminal tendencies associated with violent and psychopathic behavior," Carpio Sánchez said during a recent meeting with reporters in Tijuana. "His profile is very similar to someone who became very well-known decades ago: Ted Bundy."

Bundy was one of the nation's most prolific serial killers, having confessed to murdering 30 women across the U.S. between 1973 and 1978. He was executed in 1989.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Iran executes 1st protester sentenced to death as regime intensifies crackdown on dissidents


(LONDON) -- The Islamic Republic of Iran has carried out what is believed to be their first execution of an individual for taking part in the protests that have gripped the country in recent months.

The man, Mohsen Shekari, was arrested on Sept. 25 and sentenced to death for closing a street in Tehran and injuring a policeman with a knife. The guard required 13 stitches after the altercation, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).

Mashregh News Agency, which is linked to the state military bodies of Iran, published a confession video of Shekari, apparently under duress, as he appears to be suffering from facial injuries. Such confessions are known as "forced confessions" by Iran experts and activists and have often been used in connection with dissidents in Iran, prompting widespread criticism from international human rights bodies.

Many of those arrested in connection with the months-long protests, which show no signs of abating, have been subject to such treatment, according to Amnesty International.

"Several defendants were tortured, and their torture-tainted 'confessions' were used as evidence. State media broadcast forced 'confessions' of at least nine defendants prior to trial," Amnesty said on Dec. 2.

Earlier this week, the head of Iran's judiciary said death sentences for several protesters have been confirmed and that the executions would be carried out in the near future.

Shekari was convicted of moharebeh, a severe crime in Iran under Sharia law that means "waging war against God."

A lawyer in Iran, who could not be identified due to security concerns, told ABC News the judicial process behind Shekari's trial and execution "was not transparent and not normal at all."

"Crimes that are punishable by death, such as 'moharebeh,' must have a lawyer in the case," the lawyer said. "But Shekari was denied the right to appoint a lawyer."

There were only 74 days between Shakari's arrest and execution, which the lawyer said was an extremely short period of time in comparison with similar trials in the past.

"The opportunity to resume proceedings has also been taken away from him," the lawyer said. "I definitely say that the documents were not enough. A wound patched with a few stitches and making traffic stop can never be samples of moharebeh."

The execution, believed to be the first of its kind, comes as the Iranian regime escalate their crackdown on the protests that have engulfed the country in recent months. Those arrested have been sentenced to lengthy spells in prison and several death sentences have also been meted out.

Since the protest movement erupted in September, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody following her arrest for breaching Iran's strict dress code for women, the Iranian authorities have killed at least 458 including 63 children, according to the NGO Iran Human Rights, with at least 15,000 detained.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price warned Iran on Wednesday against issuing death sentences for anti-government protesters, saying the Iranian regime should know the world is watching.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Prince Harry and Meghan's Netflix docuseries debuts: What to know


(NEW YORK) -- Prince Harry and Meghan's docuseries is here.

The highly-anticipated first three episodes of the six-part series, titled Harry & Meghan, were released Thursday at 3 a.m., EST, on Netflix.

The duke and duchess of Sussex open up in the docuseries about everything from their love story to their decision two years ago to step down from their senior royal roles.

The docuseries, directed by Oscar-nominated Liz Garbus, is billed as a "first-hand account of Harry and Meghan's story, told with never before seen personal archive." It opens by noting that interviews for the docuseries were completed by August, one month before the death of Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The docuseries also says from the beginning that members of Britain's royal family, "declined to comment on the content within this series."

Here is a look at the docuseries' biggest moments so far, along with what to know:

Harry and Meghan met through Instagram, a mutual friend

For the first time, the Sussexes share extensive details of the start of their relationship in 2016, when Meghan was an actress on the TV show Suits.

Harry revealed he saw Meghan on a mutual friend's Instagram page, and asked to be connected.

They had their first date in July 2016 at Soho House in London, followed by a second dinner date at the same location.

After two dates, Harry and Meghan went on a five-day trip to Botswana, where they spent time just the two of them.

"We had to get to know each other before the rest of the world and the media sort of joined in," Harry said.

He later adds, "When I got to know Meghan more and more, I’m like, ‘Now, I’m really falling in love with this girl,’ so despite my fear, I just opened my heart to see what’s going to happen."

Harry says Meghan reminds him of Princess Diana

In one clip, Meghan is seen holding a baby who appears to be their son Archie in what appears to be a nursery and showing him a photo of Harry's mom Princess Diana, whom she tells him is "Grandma Diana."

Later, Harry describes the similarities he sees between his wife and Diana, who died in 1997.

"So much of what Meghan is and how she is, is so similar to my mom," Harry said. "She has the same compassion. She has the same empathy. She has the same confidence. She has this warmth about her."

Harry gives a glimpse into pressures of royal life

The docuseries is also a rare look into Britain's royal family, from Harry and Meghan's perspective.

Harry is the fifth in line to the British throne. His father is King Charles III and his older brother Prince William is the heir to the throne.

Charles, William and other members of the royal family have not publicly commented on the Sussexes' docuseries.

Docuseries generates controversy before its debut

In addition to generating headlines because of Harry's royal ties and the couple's willingness to speak out about the royal institution, the docuseries faced other controversies even before its debut.

When Netflix released trailers for Harry & Meghan, some U.K. tabloids claimed the docuseries was misleading, stating that some of the footage used in the trailers showed press and paparazzi from moments unrelated to Harry and Meghan.

An image of photographers shown in the trailer, cited as an example, is in fact from 2011, five years before the couple started dating. Another snippet from the trailer showing paparazzi swarming a vehicle appears to have been shot in 2019 outside the apartment of Michael Cohen, former President Donald Trump's ex-lawyer.

Harry and Meghan have not commented on the docuseries since its release. Netflix has also not commented on the recent criticism.

The timing of the first trailer's release was also controversial as it dropped just before William and his wife Kate, the princess of Wales, arrived in Boston for their first trip to the U.S. in eight years.

The two couples, who last reunited publicly in September for Queen Elizabeth II's funeral, did not see each other during William and Kate's U.S. trip.

Docuseries is made 'in association' with Sussexes' production company

The final three episodes of Prince Harry and Meghan's docuseries will be released on Netflix on Dec. 15.

The Netflix docuseries is part of a deal with the company the couple inked in 2020, shortly after they stepped down from their royal roles. The Sussexes now helm a California-based production company, Archewell Productions.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

China loosens COVID restrictions after protests rock the country

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(BEIJING) -- China loosened some key COVID-19 controls on Wednesday after residents began protesting against the strict measures in November.

Authorities did not acknowledge the unrest in their decision but the sudden announcement by China’s State Council Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism directly addresses some of the key concerns of the demonstrators, including relaxing quarantine rules and allowing for home quarantine for mild and asymptomatic cases. Previously, residents who tested positive were sent to a central quarantine facility. People who been in close contact with sick individuals can now self-isolate at home for five days.

Local authorities were in charge of enforcing their own preventative measures and usually erred on the side on excessive curbs, locking down entire neighborhoods, towns and even cities.

Lockdowns are now dependent on individual "buildings, units, floors and households, instead of residential compounds, communities and subdistricts," according to authorities.

Moreover, quarantine measures will now be lifted if no new infections are reported for five consecutive days.

Authorities will also move away from relying on mass nucleic acid PCR testing and expand the use of rapid antigen tests. Since the Shanghai lockdown in April and May, PCR testing was required in most Chinese cities, with residents needing to have a negative test every 48-72 hours in order to access places including school and offices. Long lines around testing booths became a normal sight across the country throughout the summer and the fall. PCR tests will now only be used for high-risk areas and occupations.

People no longer need to show a valid negative test or a health code to enter public venues or to travel, except when entering hospitals, schools and elderly homes.

While China has relaxed its measures, the ruling Communist Party still intends to control the spread of virus. International borders remain mostly closed and likely will be for the near future. Beijing has not allowed foreign vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer to be used on its population, holding out for its own mRNA technology vaccines, which have been delayed.

According to a new study from predictive health analytics firms Airfinity, at least 1.3 million residents could die if China opened its borders today.

While cases across China have been dropping from a peak of just over 40,000 daily infections, it remains unclear how the easing of restrictions will pan out.

The annual Lunar New Year travel period, which begins the first weekend of January, could be a challenge for controlling a larger outbreak. Hundreds of millions will be traveling back and forth to their hometowns, increasing their potential risk to the virus.

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Lawmaker sanctioned as Russian agent faces new charges over alleged purchase of condos in Beverly Hills

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(NEW YORK) -- A sanctioned Ukrainian politician who U.S. authorities said has ties to Russian intelligence services was hit with new criminal charges Wednesday over his alleged purchase of two condominiums in Beverly Hills, California.

The charges were announced by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and the Justice Department's KleptoCapture task force against Andrii Derkach, a member of Ukraine's parliament who has been labeled by the United States as a Russian agent and who allegedly sought to influence the 2020 presidential election by meeting with and funneling disinformation about Joe Biden to Rudy Giuliani.

Derkach is charged in a seven-count indictment with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, bank fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and four counts of money laundering. Derkach allegedly purchased the two California properties in violation of new U.S. sanctions imposed earlier this year and concealed his interest in the transactions.

"The conduct of this Kremlin asset, who was sanctioned for trying to poison our democracy, has shown he is ready, willing, and capable of exploiting banking system in order to advance his illicit goals. The U.S. will not be a safe haven where criminals, oligarchs or sanctioned entities can hide their ill-gotten gains or influence our elections," said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in a statement announcing the charges.

Derkach, who remains at large, was sanctioned for his alleged efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election on behalf of the Russian intelligence services while prosecutors said he simultaneously conspired to fraudulently benefit from a comfortable life in the U.S.

"Attempting to enjoy the safety, security, and freedoms of an open society, while secretly working to undermine that very society, is a hypocrisy that runs through every sanctions charge announced by the Task Force. It is a particularly egregious hypocrisy in the case of Andrii Derkach – sanctioned for attempts to undermine American democracy, while corruptly seeking to benefit from its protections," said KleptoCapture Director Andrew C. Adams.

Derkach, a member of a pro-Russian political party, allegedly schemed to purchase and maintain two luxury condominiums in Beverly Hills while concealing his interest in the transactions from U.S. financial institutions, according to the complaint. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Treasury officials previously said Derkach controlled two websites that helped spread disinformation about U.S. officials.

Giuliani traveled to Ukraine in 2019 with OAN news anchor Chanel Rion where the two met with Derkach for an interview and took documents from him. Federal prosecutors in New York investigated Giuliani's activities in Ukraine but decided earlier this year not to file criminal charges.

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Dozens detained in Germany on suspected plot to overthrow government: Prosecutor

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(LONDON) -- Thousands of police officers have carried out a series of raids across much of Germany on Wednesday morning against suspected far-right extremists who allegedly sought to overthrow the state by force, according to the Attorney General at the Federal Court of Justice in Germany.

Federal prosecutors said some 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany's 16 states against adherents of the so-called Reich Citizens movement.

Prosecutors said 25 German citizens were detained on suspicion of "membership in a terrorist organization" and that the group, which was not identified in their statement announcing the raids, is alleged to have believed in a "conglomerate of conspiracy theories consisting of narratives from the so-called Reich Citizens as well as Q-Anon ideology," according to a statement by prosecutors.

Many had military training and some of those arrested include former soldiers.

The arrests were made at various locations in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Saxony and Thuringia. At least two arrests were made outside of Germany's borders -- one in the Kitzbühel region of Austria and the other in Perugia in Italy.

Searches were also conducted in a number of other federal states including Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland.

"The accused belong to a terrorist organization founded by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which has set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with its own form of government, which has already been developed in outline," federal prosecutors said in a statement following the raids. "The members of the association are aware that this project can only be realized through the use of military means and violence against state representatives. This also includes committing homicides. The accused are united by a deep rejection of the state institutions and the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany."

The rise of violent hard-right groups in Germany, including white supremacist and neo-Nazi factions, was detected years before law enforcement in the U.S. was willing to acknowledge the problem existed in America. In the final years of the Merkel government -- and prior to the pandemic -- some German intelligence officials were actively pushing Berlin to be more outspoken and aggressive in calling out the issue for fear that silence was allowing it to fester as the mainstream German population continued to believe it was a problem buried in the past.

With the rise of Q-Anon, the violent far-right and the re-energized militia movement in the U.S., other fringe groups in Europe and America started feeding off each other’s energy and online growth. The movements now, in many ways, mirror each other and cross-pollinate.

Authorities are expected to hold a press conference later Wednesday detailing the massive operation.

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Passengers on Antarctic cruise ship hit by deadly 'rogue wave' speak out


(NEW YORK) -- Tom and Pam Trusdale were enjoying a bucket list trip to Antarctica, until their trip of a lifetime turned into a deadly disaster.

"It was going real smoothly, and we were only anticipating nothing but smooth going forward," Tom Trusdale told ABC News.

The Trusdales were passengers on the Viking Polaris cruise ship sailing toward Ushuaia, Argentina, when it was hit by a "rogue wave" last week, killing an American passenger, Sheri Zhu, and injuring four others.

The Trusdales said the wave wasn't the only disaster. The Trusdales and ABC News later confirmed that a day before the accident, another passenger was seriously injured during a Zodiac boat excursion.

"It was a real loud, it was a boom, and I flew up in the air, and the passenger across from me flew up in the air. She came down and hit hard," Pam Trusdale said.

Tom Trusdale said he saw two passengers tossed into the air from what seemed to be an apparent explosion.

"I saw the woman go, probably about 3 feet in the air, and then the gentleman straight across from me go up in the air, and then roll over into the sea," Tom Trusdale said. "So I went across and leaned over the pontoon, and I just grabbed on to the life jacket. He was face up, so he was stabilized, and I reassured him that, 'Hey, you're safe.'"

Tom Trusdale said he and another passenger were able to quickly pull the man back on the boat, but the woman's leg was severely injured.

"She said, 'I hurt my legs. I can't feel my leg,'" Pam Trusdale said. " And then I could hear her kind of straining that, you know, I could tell that she was in a lot of pain."

The passenger's leg required surgery, which led the ship's captain to turn back to Argentina. During the trip back toward Argentina, through a known turbulent stretch of ocean, was when the "rogue wave" crashed into the cruise ship.

"This wave hit it and came over and literally broke through windows and just washed into these rooms, and not only did it wash into the rooms, but it broke walls down, and once some walls went into the next room," Tom Trusdale said.

Viking said in a statement on its website that it's investigating the wave incident and is committed to the safety and security of all guests and crew.

Viking issued a second statement about the Zodiac boat incident, saying: "On November 28, the Viking Polaris deployed a small boat with six guests and one crew member near Damoy Point, Antarctica. On this trip a guest sustained a serious but non-life-threatening leg injury while on board the small boat and was taken to the medical center on the Viking Polaris."

"Following a detailed diagnosis by the ship's medical team, the decision was taken for the ship to immediately sail to Ushuaia so that the guest could receive additional medical care from a shore-based hospital," it continued. "The guest is now recovering shoreside in Ushuaia and will then return home; Viking is continuing to support them during this period. We are committed to the safety and security of all our guests and crew, and we are investigating the cause of the incident."

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Ukraine drone attack hits 2 military bases deep inside Russia

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(MOSCOW) -- Explosions that struck two military airbases deep inside Russia on Monday were the result of drone attacks launched by Ukraine, according to Russian and Ukrainian officials, in what appeared to be an audacious attempt to hit the long-range bombers Russia has used to devastate Ukraine’s power grid.

Russia’s defense ministry on Monday confirmed the attacks on the bases that are located hundreds of miles from the frontline, saying two of its aircraft were damaged and three military personnel killed.

The unprecedented strikes were the first time Ukraine has hit so far into Russia, targeting bases that had generally been thought of as untouchable, according to military experts.

A senior Ukrainian official from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s circle, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told ABC News that Ukrainian drones had struck the Russian military airfields Monday.

Russian media reported an explosion early Monday morning at the Engels-2 airbase in the Saratov region in southern Russia, a key airfield that houses Tu-95 and Tu-60 nuclear-capable bombers.

Another explosion was reported at the Dyagilevo military airbase in Ryazan, a city less than 150 miles from Moscow and also houses Tu-95 bombers. Russian state media initially reported that a fuel tanker exploded at the base, killing three people and wounding at least five others.

Russian officials initially avoided commenting on the explosions but on Monday evening, Russia’s defense ministry said "Soviet-made" Ukrainian drones had caused it. But the ministry said Russian air defenses had shot down the drones and the damage was caused by their wreckage landing on the airfields.

Hours after the attacks, Russia launched a new barrage of missile strikes against Ukraine, including from strategic bombers, again targeting its energy infrastructure. Ukraine’s air force claimed it shot down 60 of 70 Russian cruise missiles, but the strikes left several regions partially without power. Zelenskyy said the Russian attacks had also killed four people Monday.

Russia’s defense ministry claimed the drone attacks on its airbases had failed to disrupt the planned strikes, claiming they had destroyed 17 targets.

The airbase explosions, nonetheless, were a significant shift, marking the first time Ukraine has sought to hit the bombers that for months have regularly attacked its civilian infrastructure with impunity and recently sought to bring its energy grid to its knees. The Russian bombers usually launch cruise missiles from outside Ukraine’s borders, well beyond the reach of its air defenses, experts said.

Satellite images from the company Maxar taken over the two days before Monday’s attacks showed roughly two dozen Russian bombers parked at the Engels-2 base.

The Russian defense ministry said two of its aircraft had suffered "superficial" damage in the blasts. Video circulating on Russian social media appeared to show two Tu-22 bombers at the Dyagilevo base with damage to their tail ends, standing next to a burned out fuel truck.

Russian pro-war commentators reacted with fury to the attacks, calling it a humiliation that the country’s nuclear airbases were vulnerable to conventional drones and blaming it on negligence among commanders.

A top advisor to Zelenskyy posted a cryptic comment on Twitter mocking Russia over the explosions.

"The Earth is round – discovery made by Galileo. Astronomy was not studied in Kremlin, giving preference to court astrologers," wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, the presidential adviser. "If it was, they would know: if something is launched into other countries’ airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point."

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Eruption of Mount Semeru, Indonesia's tallest volcano, prompts evacuations for thousands living downslope


(LUMAJANG REGENCY, Indonesia) -- Several villages surrounding Mount Semeru, Indonesia's tallest volcano, have been blanketed in ash and soot following its latest eruption.

Evacuations were announced Sunday as the 12,060-foot volcano, located in East Java in Indonesia, about 300 miles southeast of the capital Jakarta, began to spew lava and ash into the densely populated island on Sunday just before 3 a.m. local time, according to local authorities.

Thick ash was blasted more than 4,000 feet into the air while lava flowed down the slopes toward the Besuk Kobokan river, about 8 miles from the crater, the country's National Disaster Management Agency announced.

At one point, the volcanic activity level had been raised to Level 4, the highest status, according to Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.

While monsoon rains eventually eroded and collapsed the lava dome on top of Mount Semeru, nearby villages were advised to stay more than 3 miles away from the crater's mouth and prompted evacuations for thousands of people, officials said.

Hundreds of people were moved to temporary shelters or evacuated the area, The Associated Press reported, citing the disaster management agency in Lumajang in the East Java province.

Prior to Sunday, Mount Semeru erupted from Nov. 23 to Nov. 29, with daily explosions at the summit that sent ash plumes nearly 3,000 feet into the sky, according to the Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History.

The last major eruption occurred in December 2021, which killed 51 people in nearby villages, according to the AP. More than 10,000 villagers were evacuated, and hundreds of people were severely burned by the hot ash and lava expelled from the volcano.

There are 129 active volcanoes within the Indonesian archipelago, and tens of thousands of people continue to live downslope from the summits.

Indonesia sits along the "Ring of Fire" in the Pacific, a series of fault lines prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

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Iran's morality police status unclear, but wearing the hijab is still mandatory for Iranian women

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(NEW YORK) -- Women in Iran will still be required to wear the hijab under Islamic Republic law, even if the country's government decides to abolish the religious police who were in charge of enforcing the dress code.

Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced on Saturday the country's morality police had been dismantled, adding that the judicial system will keep monitoring people's behavior in the country.

But on Sunday, Alalam News, the Arabic outlet of the Iranian state media, denied the attorney general’s comment on ending the morality police in a short piece on Sunday.

In addition, Iran's parliament and the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution are studying the topic of hijab, and the result will be announced in 15 days, Montazeri announced on Thursday.

However, it is unclear how things will change as a result of these moves by the government. The announcements do not indicate that the mandatory hijab rule in Iran is over, as wearing the hijab is still mandatory under Islamic Republic law.

Morality police were just one of the enforcement arms for the regime to implement the law of mandatory hijab for women. There are "security" offices in all state organizations and malls, as well as parks and other public places, that are manned and managed by the intelligence ministry. One of the major tasks of these offices is to monitor women's hijabs. Morality police was the name of the patrolling vans that would arrest women on the streets.

Even if the religious police were to be abolished, protesters and activists have been warning that it's very likely authorities will rebrand the morality police and the mission will be back in no time under another name -- as the morality police was itself a rebranded mission of a former police division name "Sar-allah Patrol."

Women are controlled in many other ways to abide with this law. Girls -- from the age of 7 -- are not admitted at school if they do not wear clothes that are deemed proper. Women patients are not admitted at the hospitals if they do not wear a hijab. Women do not receive any service at the banks or any other organizations if they don't follow the hijab laws.

The announcement to eliminate the religious police comes three months after deadly demonstrations in Iran -- as well as protests all over the world -- which could be an indication that the government is bowing down to global pressure.

On Sept. 16, Iranian woman Mahsa Amini died in the hospital days after she was arrested for allegedly not adhering to the dress code correctly.

Amini's death ignited protests among women who risked their lives by ripping off their hijabs and cutting their hair in public.

At least 448 people, including 60 children, have been killed since the protests began, though the true number is believed to be higher because of the difficulty in accessing death certificates, according to NGO Iran Human Rights.

The protests are also targeting the head of the regime, Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with slogans such as "Death to dictator" and "Death to Khamenei."

An estimated 14,000 people across the country, including many journalists and school children, have been arrested on charges related to demonstrations, the United Nations announced last month.

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'Rogue wave' strikes Antarctic cruise ship, leaves one dead and four injured

Courtesy Beverly Spiker

(NEW YORK) -- An American passenger on an Antarctic cruise died and four other guests were injured after their Viking ship was struck by a "rogue wave," officials said.

The incident happened on Tuesday around 10:40 p.m. local time while the Viking Polaris ship was sailing toward Ushuaia, Argentina, Viking said.

A guest died following the incident, Viking said, though did not share further details on the cause of death. The victim's family has been notified, the company said.

The passenger killed was a U.S. citizen, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to ABC News Friday.

"We are offering all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the family during this difficult time, we have no further comment," the spokesperson said.

The victim was confirmed as Sheri Zhu, 62, by Secretary of the Ushuaia Federal Court Melina Rodriguez.

Four other guests sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the incident and were treated by the ship's doctor and medical staff, Viking said.

"We are investigating the facts surrounding this incident and will offer our support to the relevant authorities," Viking said in a statement Thursday. "Our focus remains on the safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew, and we are working directly with them to arrange return travel."

The ship sustained "limited damage" from the rogue wave and arrived in Ushuaia on Wednesday "without further incident," Viking said. Images taken of the docked ship showed several damaged windows.

Passengers on board the ship described choppy conditions leading up to the incident.

Californian Beverly Spiker told ABC News that a "huge smash" against the window of her and her husband's cabin caused her window frame to break.

"Clearly something big had happened," she said. "A lot of water came shooting in."

"Luckily, our windows did hold," she added, though said other rooms on their side of the ship were "washed out."

Spiker's cousin, Suzie Gooding, of North Carolina, told ABC News that at the time, the ship was going through the Drake Passage, "which is well-known for having turbulent seas."

Gooding said despite the conditions outside looking "horrible," the inside was "like a normal cruise ship" leading up to the incident. She said she felt a "sudden shudder" that caused cabinets to open.

"It was just unbelievable," she said. "At the time that it happened, we personally wondered if, you know, we knew that we weren't by any icebergs, but it's like, did we hit an iceberg? It just was so sudden."

Spiker said she and other passengers were "shook up" afterward.

"No matter what side of the boat you're on, it was felt throughout the ship that clearly something bad had happened," she said. "So everybody was pretty shook up."

The ship is docked as passengers await further travel plans from Viking, according to Gooding, who said that two other ships in their bay in Ushuaia were also damaged, possibly by rogue waves.

The Viking Polaris ship's next departure for the Antarctic, scheduled for Dec. 5, has been canceled "after careful consideration," the cruise line said.

Rogue, or extreme storm, waves are "greater than twice the size of surrounding waves" and are "very unpredictable," according to the National Ocean Service.

Ushuaia, at the southernmost tip of South America, is a common starting point for cruises to Antarctica.

ABC News' Matthew Seyler contributed to this report.

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